Biscuit's rehab journey.

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Post by Rachel33 on Wed Mar 19 2014, 08:47

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DISCLAIMER: The information provided here is simply mine and Biscuit's story. She is a very complicated dog and I have had help and guidance from professionals along the way, aswell as undertaking professional training myself and I have worked handling dogs for the past 5 years. Some of the training methods that I have used for Biscuit (who is essentially a very placid and calm dog with known handlers) just wouldn't work for dogs of other temperaments and personalities. Aggression is not something to be advised on by anybody other than a behavioural practitioner, which I am not! If you are worried about your dog's temperament, don't try to follow these guidelines, contact a professional!

Background:
Biscuit was taken into the shelter by a couple in 2011, stating that she was a stray. She was wide-eyed, and manically barking at everything in reception area in a state of panic. Biscuit had scarring to various parts of her body, a very swollen tummy and a bad case of mastitis, she had clearly been overbred and from her reaction to the world didn’t seem to have been socialised. After a long 15 minutes I managed to get her into a kennel, but staff saw her behaviour and didn't feel that she was safe to be re-homed. This is all I know of Biscuit’s background.

Shelter:
Many of the staff wanted Biscuit put to sleep,  I spent weeks sitting outside Biscuit’s kennel on my lunch breaks, chucking little bits of cheese through the bars, but not giving any eye contact or forcing interaction. Simply by giving her something positive, but not making her uncomfortable, she started to approach the kennel front. She wasn’t showing any positive body language, but was still approaching which was progress. I moved on to sitting in her outside run and reading a book/filling in paperwork but still ignoring her. She would initially lunge and snap/bark but would never make contact (this was a forward move but I was running out of time.) After her initial explosion of emotion she would calm and silently watch me from her bed, reacting to any movement that I made, but the threats were becoming less and less. After about a month of this she finally approached, it was a really surreal moment, she slowly crawled towards me (ears flat, tail down, making subdued movements) and then sniffed me all over, I stayed as still as possible as she was breathing on my face! Next thing I knew she started wiggling from head to toe and licking my hands as if we were long lost friends! From that day forward, she would run up to the kennel front wagging when I approached, but if somebody else was with me she would explode barking at them and run back inside. Over a 6 month period I was able to introduce her to two more female members of staff who she would also allow into her kennel to feed and put her lead on, and one volunteer lady, but that was as far as it went. If I wasn’t in work, she wasn’t walked, staff refused to go into her kennel and volunteers were too scared to walk her. I test walked her on the toe path beside the shelter to gage her reactions but they were right, it was too busy for her; cyclists, dogs, joggers, men, women, children; everything was a threat and fair game to launch at, snapping and snarling. She wasn’t safe and was likely to do some damage if not kept under control. I decided to foster her on a very short term basis (my landlords didn’t allow pets and I was living in a tiny top floor flat with male tenants that I was likely to bump into when passing on the stair way.)

Foster:
I managed to foster Biscuit for around 4 months, however, my landlords were starting to get suspicious and and told me I had to “get rid of the dog or leave.” She would be dead in a day if she went back to the shelter so I found a roommate and moved into a quiet area in South Gloucestershire. Moving was bound to upset her and it resulted in us having to start training all over again when we arrived, but it was for the best. My new housemate was a man and Biscuit still wasn’t happy, but with the use of a crate, a kong and my new housemate feeding her cheese (but otherwise ignoring her) after a few days the snarling ceased and she was okay. She was great with him after that, Biscuit is wonderful with all handling and other than in initial meetings she has never sniped at anybody, over anything!

I needed to put in place a rehoming plan so I took her to my dads house in the countryside for a week to housesit in peace and see how she was (attached to a long line) but pretty much off lead. I could exercise her in the small yard at the shelter but other than this she wasn’t off lead for 6 months! She lost the plot and zoomed around, tongue flapping, tail wagging but always staying close. She still wasn’t confident enough to play with toys but had loads of fun digging up the earth and we had a lovely, quiet week in the wilderness, by the end of the week she relaxed and was chewing on bones and chasing toys around. Seeing her like this told me more about what sort of home she would need; I felt that she could relax in this setting and could safely exercise on the acres of land happily with supervised interactions with visitors and not having to face the world every day. I worked in the city centre and couldn’t carry on leaving her for those long hours at home whilst working in kennels, so it wasn’t my home that she was destined for! I began to make contacts to find her a home with people that I knew in Devon; but the staffy situation was dire and it wasn’t looking hopeful that anybody would want to take her.

For the first 10 months of her stay Biscuit had been having phantom pregnancies and producing milk, the shelter refused to spay her as they still felt that she wouldn’t make it out of there and that it was a waste of limited resources; however on that trip to my dads we found a lump on her rear leg. I persuaded the vets to sneak her onto the list for spay and lump removal and sedated her myself (so that nobody would have to handle her.) Her spay went well and biopsy of the lump came back as clear. She met one family who were clearly unsuitable for her; a quiet home but no experience and already had a Jack Russell that wouldn’t allow them to sit on the sofa and had bitten multiple times. I then got  “that” phone call; it turned out that they had mixed up the biopsy results; Biscuit in fact had a grade 6 malignant melanoma and the prognosis wasn’t looking positive, 6 months in fact. I didn’t believe them initially; they had been trying to kill this dog for over a year, why wouldn’t they lie about this? My manager gave me an ultimatum; I keep her or she’s put to sleep that afternoon. I signed the adoption papers.

Biscuit’s behavioural problems:
Med/high level defensive aggression towards strangers (especially men)
Med/high level defensive aggression towards unknown dogs
On lead reactivity to pretty much everything
Chase instinct with cyclists/scooters/skateboars/joggers (will lunge and grab)
No training whatsoever, also pulled hard on the lead
No confidence to play with toys (and phantom pregnancies caused possessiveness with certain toys deemed to be her “puppies”)
Random toilet training issues (mostly when it was raining!!)
High prey drive (not safe around livestock or cats/small animals)
Eating other animal’s poo!!!
Mild separation anxiety (clingy behavior, following around the house, pushing affection onto you)
Deep, guttural barking at any sound perceived to be a threat, and especially sirens (?!)
Stress when voices are raised people are play fighting/messing around (stare and deep, low growl)
Severe firework phobia

Adoption;
This is where the rehab started; I have included a brief description of how I worked with each behavioural problem. If you are experiencing this problem yourself I’m happy to go into more detail to help, but as Biscuit has SO many problems it would take all day to type out the full rehab process.

Med/high level defensive aggression towards strangers (especially men)
Med/high level defensive aggression towards unknown dogs
On lead reactivity to pretty much everything
Chase instinct with cyclists/scooters/skateboars/joggers (will lunge and grab)

At first I felt that Biscuit was “angry” and myself being inexperienced possibly even “dominant;” I was new to behavior and simply learning by observing.  I soon learnt to read body language and understand that famous Terrier personality. Biscuit was lunging and showing aggression because she felt threatened due to little prior experience; her general personality type with known people and dogs is submissive and sweet, but she is fiery and true to the Staffordshire breed; not scared of a scrap. The first step was working with her to become safe to exercise; we lived in a quieter, but very “doggy” area and so the first step was to muzzle train. She was then walked with a halti head collar, muzzle, and halti double lead attached to both collar and halti for safety. Her reaction to dogs/stranger is pretty much the same (lying down, staring and keeping completely still until they get too close and then lunging, growling and manically barking at them to get them out of her space.) I trained her to sit and “focus” when dogs and people were a large distance away and she had spotted them, but then changed direction so that she wouldn’t get close enough to react, (I didn’t want her practicing that reaction so we avoided her meeting dogs at all if possible.) I used Patricia McConnell’s book “Feisty Fido” as a basis for this part of the rehab and would recommended it to anybody with a reactive/aggressive/fearful dog.  I soon learnt that Biscuit not only had a safe distance (roughly 10 metres away from said scary thing) but also a safe number; she could see 2-3 people/dogs/cyclists and be able to continue with her walk, but anymore and she became “over-faced” (so stressed that she couldn’t focus or learn) and we would have to get her home on the quietest route possible and try again later on in the day.  Of course, life happens and we bumped into the odd few dogs, but most of my time was spent avoiding people  and dogs and not allowing her to practice this reaction. I began walking Biscuit at 10pm for 90 minutes to get her training polished whilst on a walk (she was also scared and more reactive when it was dark.) From all of these diversions I managed to find some quiet grassy areas where Biscuit could play and had some long lead time to get some energy out of her and this was great for her learning, having that release of energy enabled her to learn commands much more quickly after an off lead session. (Though most of this was in the dark and using a head torch lol!)

We then progressed to larger off lead areas where off lead dogs were, but that were vast enough to avoid other walkers from far ahead. Now that her reactions to other dogs from a distance were calm, I felt it was time to start some interactions. I used calm stooge dogs from the kennels to walk her with (muzzled and on lead) with no interactions, but just having them at a close proximity. She came around surprisingly quickly and I learnt that her problem was in fact the unknown and not dogs in general. She really enjoyed interacting and playing with other dogs after polite and calm interactions, but couldn’t cope with the “meet and greet” which I feel came from lack of positive early socialization and possibly even genetics. I began to foster dogs on a temporary basis and used crates for feeding/kongs etc, we didn’t have a single problem. Biscuit would share, play and sleep with other dogs without a problem; in fact she was truly wonderful with them and even taught some shy dogs a few things about play! Though she doesn’t tolerate noise or barking, and will tell dogs off for making excessive noise.. she’s a bossy madam! We managed Biscuit like this for almost a year in South Gloucestershire, but things didn’t work out and I decided to move back to Devon.

In a very rushed move I ended up in Central Exeter in a huge house that required multiple housemates to run it. Biscuit was meeting women well now, but still not happy with men. If men were to come into the house I would keep Biscuit in her crate (still in the same room) with a tasty kong and allow her to observe and smell from a safe distance. With the right commands she would sit and take treats, but if people ignored my instructions and tried to touch her too early she would still snarl and snap at their hands. My partner was in the army for a long time and we was now living in the house with us so he had lots of male friends visiting, We were caught unaware a few times and not able to get Biscuit into her crate, resulting in her rushing up to people and jumping up barking and staring out. Where possible we continued with the crate but Biscuit learnt surprisingly quickly that men resulted in cheese or ham and would begin to get excited when they arrived, running up and sitting in front of them wagging her tail; they still couldn’t touch her, but she was choosing to positively interact. The main thing that I learnt in this situation was to watch her and not assume; yes she felt threatened by men but on occasion she would appear to have no problems. With my partner, for example, she approached as happily as she would me, and settled down on his lap almost immediately. Quite embarrassing considering how I had described her to be!! He thought I was exaggerating until he saw the behavior for himself!! Biscuit now allows all of our friends into the home without issue, though does tend to flirt a little too much (we are forgotten when there are visitors here to scratch her tummy!!) but is still in her crate if there are workmen etc, she reminds me of my nan in some ways (don’t laugh!!) because she can only relax when everyone else is sat down and comfortable. If not, she fusses and becomes stressed, trying to calm people down and acting like a fool, though this will still sometimes turn into aggression.

No training whatsoever, also pulled hard on the lead
Biscuit is foodie and praise oriented (a dream to train!!) and now knows lots of tricks and commands that also helped to build our bond; sit, stay, down, wait, heel, roll over, “bang” (play dead,) drop, leave, come, sit up (from a down position,) off, no and jump. I’m currently teaching her to differentiate between objects. The only command we haven’t been able to teach is retrieve, though just playing with toys at all is good enough for me! The halti worked well for training, along with decent off lead daily exercise. She now walks with a collar/harness and double lead attached to both and her muzzle. No more halti!

Training outdoors.
We lived on a busy road in Exeter and there were occasions where Biscuit forgot herself and lunged at people, unfortunately she pinned one lady up against a wall and I very nearly got in a lot of trouble. But this was another thing that I learnt: I was in and out of hospital at this point having various scans and had recently had surgery. Biscuit is a very sensitive dog, any change in mood or routine and she will react negatively. I can’t train this out of her, but I can manage her walks and interactions when there are troubles within the home.

One good thing that came with the move was the walking areas, we now had a very quiet nature reserve behind our house where Biscuit could run (muzzled) but on a long line; in the back field we could even take her muzzle off and let play (she discovered a love for footballs eventually!) and her behavior was even better with daily off lead runs. She needed to be trained off lead now so I began teaching very strong sit-stay and recall and impulse control commands. I did this by showing her a treat and asking her to sit stay, and gradually adding more steps into how far away I got, I would then add the “come” into this and she would run at me as fast as possible to get her treat. We also play fun games like hide and seek within the house. We put her in a sit-stay downstairs and she would stay in that place until we had got to our hiding place and called her (also helps with recall,) she would then run through the house like a bull in a china shop trying to find us, getting a reward when she did. To teach her impulse and the leave command we let her play quite roughly with a raggy toy and then taught her to leave when she was in a high state of arousal, and wait to play with it again (the playing again was the reward.) We could now use the  “leave” command when we saw other animals. Breed specific play (high level/excitement chase games to satisfy play drive helped to distract from other prey also) This is one thing that I have found with staffies, they are such fun dogs and training should be the same! I keep all sessions to 10-15 minutes and make it all very exciting, when she completed a command we basically have a party and she rolls around on the floor basking in the attention.

There were also cows, sheep and random cats in the fields that Biscuit would love to chase, we used the leave and heel commands to work with this and distracted with her “prey toy” (raggy) but also of course held onto her lead, Biscuit often has other ideas and is very clever and crafty about getting what she wants (I have seen her pretend to be calm and focused and then run off when you’re least expecting it.) Biscuit also knows the “wait” before going around corners as you never know what will be there, she will slow down to a wait and I can then command a “stay” and she will stay in place until I reach her, and then go into a heel before giving a “go play” command once in a safe place again. The best reward I have found for a dog on a walk is to allow them to go back to what they were doing providing it’s safe to do so; if Biscuit is running around and I call her back, I treat and then instantly give another release command, I have found that she will respond more if she knows it won’t completely stop the fun time!

Random toilet training issues (mostly when it was raining!!)
This has now been solved, by feeding earlier and teaching a toilet command, ours is “wee wee’s!” She would run to the corner and pretend to pee and then run back to the door if you didn’t watch her!!

Mild separation anxiety (clingy behavior, following around the house, pushing affection onto you)
Deep, guttural barking at any sound perceived to be a threat, and especially sirens (?!)
Stress when voices are raised people are play fighting/messing around (stare and deep, low growl)

Since training and routine has been established Biscuit has vastly improved, though is still as clingy as Staffie’s are! I use the stay command when she tries to get up to follow me, which she will do but doesn’t look happy about it. We also use this when we go upstairs (she’s only allowed up on invite.) Boundaries are massively important for confidence, we always insure that Biscuit understands her place in the household and what is expected of her. This is built her confidence more than anything. Socialization and gradual exposure to noises has diminished most of the barking, though she will still alert me, hackles raised and “ready” if she’s worried about something (normal dog behavior really!) And though is worried if there are arguments in the house, no longer tries to take anyone on!!

Severe firework phobia
We’re working on it! Using TTouch techniques and sedation at present.


Last edited by Rachel33 on Thu Feb 04 2016, 16:53; edited 4 times in total
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Post by Rachel33 on Sun May 04 2014, 11:35

Oh, thank you so much both of you xx
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Post by Debs01 on Sun May 25 2014, 08:23

Hats off to you Rach you have worked so hard to get bis on the right track and keep her there and it shows she's a lovely girl and I'm glad she has you as her mum Big Grin
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Post by Rachel33 on Sat May 31 2014, 17:30

Thank you Debs! Xx

Had a crap day today! Since Bug has been doing so well and it was very humid we decided to take her swimming in the forest which can be a little busier than the fields or the moors.. We could see she wasn't in the best of moods on the way down to be fair, but as she's been perfect with the focus command we thought we would persevere! Bad idea!! All of the idiots were out in force today, had a total of 3 dogs run up and get in her face, including one couple who saw me move her way back off the path and put her into a focus, on short lead, and still let their dog come over!! Second was a husky with no owner in sight, Bis really freaked out and I actually had to pick her up (which is something I never do) as I could see a fight happening! Owners finally arrived, I told them to recall their dog and got the usual "she only wants to play!" Grrrrrr!!!!!! Luckily did have some decent owners that called their dog back when we asked, but seriously, what is wrong with people?! Why do people with sociable dogs seem to think they have a right to let their dogs do whatever they please?

So she was very stressy but we burnt all of that energy chasing sticks into the river and ripping them all up! At home now and she's gone to sit outside Sad bad day. Hopefully tomorrow will be better!

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Post by flowerbud on Sat May 31 2014, 20:20

Grr hate that response Rach! Silly owners! Poor Bis not her fault she was subjected to that. Our old dog was friendly, but I always put her straight on lead whenever we saw an unknown dog, for her safety in case other dog not friendly. I cannot understand why they have no thought for their own dog if not other peoples!
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Post by Kelsbels on Thu Jul 17 2014, 23:04

Just wow!! You two must have been ment for each other! Lovely lucky girls to have each other. Rach your an absolute star. Nico does that laying down thing with other dogs, but he gets up and plays or just barks if the other dog doesn't want to play. I keep him on a long lead most of the time unless his friends are out playing!
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Post by Rachel33 on Wed Jul 30 2014, 20:10

Thanks so much KelsBels Smile very kind of you to say!
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Post by Rachel33 on Wed Jul 30 2014, 20:12

Biscuit came to Cornwall today to my mums house.. She sat in he garden with us all afternoon after a good run around on Carn Brea, and shared the garden with 3 cats and a tortoise!!!!! Wouldn't have let her off of the lead but after initial excitement and trying to chase she settled right down and even had a snooze! Had family coming in and out and she greeted everyone calmly, didn't even jump up Smile so proud of my girl!
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Post by flowerbud on Wed Jul 30 2014, 21:34

Good girl Biscuit!  Big Grin 
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Post by shegsy on Wed Jul 30 2014, 21:59

Well done Bis and especially well done to you Rach for all you have done together with her Love Struck 
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Post by Rachel33 on Sun Sep 07 2014, 21:24

Thank you again Smile

Well, this weekend Biscuit has met a 5 week old baby, 2 men, 3 new dogs and spent 4 hours road tripping in the car with us! Took it all in her stride and didn't have a single negative reaction! Literally bursting with pride, SO happy.

Currently snoring on the sofa Smile Zzzzz
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Post by shegsy on Mon Sep 08 2014, 22:13

Aww that's so nice to hear Rach xx
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Post by Mia05 on Mon Sep 08 2014, 22:43

Aww
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Post by Rachel33 on Wed Oct 01 2014, 08:07

Wonderful walk yesterday Smile Biscuit was sniffing around the park and a lady said "hello" to me - Biscuit took that as saying hello to her and head down wiggled her way over to her and gave her LOADS of cuddles! The lady admitted that she's usually scared of "such powerful dogs" but that Biscuit was lovely Big Grin A*
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Post by -Ian- on Wed Oct 01 2014, 13:52

Good girl Biscuit.. It really is the best way to get attention thumbs up


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Post by Guest on Wed Oct 01 2014, 22:11

Way to go bug! kiss

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Post by LizP on Mon Nov 03 2014, 13:59

I've just read through this and it really brought a tear (or maybe more than one... ). What a fab story. Any more updates?

I'll be thinking of you this week with the dreaded November 5th 'f' word. It took a couple of years to get Bobbert just about ok with them but it remained hard work. Trust your mum, Biscuit, she'll keep you safe.


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Post by Rachel33 on Wed Nov 19 2014, 15:38

Thanks for your comments!

November 5th wasn't horrendous on the actual night, but really set her back for a few days on walks - we seem to have gotten that back on track a little now thankfully!

We had a lovely walk this morning - we turned the corner from our house and something happened that never has before!! There are 3 reactive dogs in our little neighborhood, a dalmatian, and GSD and little Biscuit - and we all met at the same time at the zebra crossing! After a few u-turns and road crossing plus lots of treats for focusing, we got out of the situation and Biscuit didn't hard stare/lunge/react negatively at all! The GSD struggled a little bless her, but together we managed to keep the dogs under threshold Laughing From there she had a run around in a quiet field with her wubba, and shared the field with two shih tzus without concern. Now snuggled by the radiator with a bone waiting for a friend to visit from Canada, who she hasn't seen for about a year. Sure she will be happy to see her though Smile
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Post by Rachel33 on Tue Mar 10 2015, 09:49

Positive update, really, Bug's been doing really well in general, despite getting attacked a few weeks back. Her reactions have decreased by 3/4 and she seem much more relaxed on walks. She did however, lose her sh*t at a daffodil this morning, clearly shouldn't have been growing in the middle of the path..
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Post by -Ian- on Tue Mar 10 2015, 10:54

^&*%*$* Daffodiles angry Laughing

Great news Rachel, just goes to show what hard work and love can do Big Grin


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Post by LizP on Tue Mar 10 2015, 10:59

Fab news! She's right about the daffodils, though. Remember what happened to Dirty Den (if you can remember back that far!)


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Post by Rachel33 on Tue Mar 10 2015, 21:30

Thanks Ian! I wish I knew what you were talking about Liz, but I haven't a clue lol!!
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Post by -Ian- on Tue Mar 10 2015, 21:49

Rachel33 wrote:I wish I knew what you were talking about Liz, but I haven't a clue lol!!

If ever you're walking by a canal and you see a bunch of Daffs coming towards you.... RUN Laughing


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Post by Rachel33 on Fri Mar 20 2015, 20:21

Heart in mouth moment... Walking Bug in the fields today, the same fields that we've been walking in for the last 18 months and know like the back of my hand.. rarely see a single person so allow Bug more space. She has a 50ft line attached, mega happy in the sun whizzing around and being a loon!! Just as we reach the brow of the slope she gets a case of the zoomies, darts back and forth and round in circles and then forwards until her line is just out of my reach.. What do I see about 3 metres from her? About 20 bloody sheep!! Line is out of reach, Bug is looking at them, then back at me, back to them - I give an almighty "Bug, COME!" and she comes freezes before bolting back to me tongue flapping and tail going around in circles! I could have died.. And she got a massive jackpot of treats!!
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Post by -Ian- on Fri Mar 20 2015, 20:32

Oh wow... Good girl Bis thumbs up Big Grin

I can well imagine how worried you must have been Rachel... I know I would have been!


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Post by Rachel33 on Wed Apr 08 2015, 12:06

Argh. What a walk - kids and dogs EVERYWHERE due to it being the Easter holidays still, even two in our lovely quiet fields Sad first reaction was a kid SCREAMING at his dog who had run off (thought he was being attacked initially!) so this put her on edge, followed by her arch enemy (out of control dog that seems to find us and run at us no matter where we are!) appearing from nowhere but thankfully not approaching, then finally two yappy little dogs going crazy barking at her while we tried to avoid and walk across the car park. Spot some rather bouncy children as I'm walking home so try to cross the road and they follow us, I pull Bug into my side and the child runs past waving his arms - cue Bug lunging and barking at him. Nightmare Sad I love the sun, but loathe the busyness that is brings Sad feeling pretty crap.
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Post by stella on Wed Apr 08 2015, 20:12

gosh that was a lot for poor biscuit to put up with no wonder she reacted,try not to feel to crap rach i'm sure tomorrow will be better Smile
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Post by -Ian- on Fri Apr 10 2015, 22:16

Think.... Holiday Big Grin


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Post by Staffy lover on Tue Apr 14 2015, 09:43

Great to hear Bis is doing well. Easter holidays always brings problems sadly. And any other holiday. Bis had me laughing at the flowers thing. Laughing
How I loath dog owners that allow their dogs to come running up to any dogs!
Well done Bis Love Struck
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Post by Elise-R on Mon Jan 04 2016, 23:50

Just read through this whole post and have to say- Biscuit is one lucky dog to have you as her mum! It's so great to read how far you have both come, you've worked so hard with her and she sounds like a sweetheart! I love the picture of her, she's so pretty Smile
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Post by Mistys Mum on Tue Jan 05 2016, 09:39

I've just read this and what an amazing read. Biscuit is a lucky girl to have found someone like you Rachel. This is such a positive story I wish every abused dog could have a happy ending like this. You have worked so hard where most people would have given up and Biscuit is now happy and safe and is no longer the scared dog you first met. applause


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Post by B_ChrisB on Thu Feb 04 2016, 16:40

Great read! good to see how far shes come Smile thumbs up thumbs up

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